Mindfulness is moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, characterized mainly by "acceptance" - attention to thoughts and feelings without judging whether they are right or wrong. Mindfulness focuses the human brain on what is being sensed at each moment. (The Greater Good Science Center)
There are many ways to practice mindfulness. One way is represented by the acronym RAIN. RAIN new mindfulness tool that offers support for working with intense and difficult emotions. It emerged relatively recently amongst Buddhist teachers and has been introduced into therapeutic practice by individuals such Tara Brach. It stands for:
R Recognize what is happening
A Allow life to be just as it is
I Investigate inner experience with kindness
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Get to know yourself better and gain insight on why you are feeling unfulfilled with this simple exercise.
This exercise can be done in as little as 30 minutes but the results can expose the reasons why you are feeling stuck. My hope is that, by gaining clarity on who you are, and what you value, you can begin to see where to focus your energy in the interest of improving your life.
I love participating in this exercise with my clients and I find that it's relevant for most people regardless of what brings them in to therapy. Today I am providing information on how to do the
exercise on your own but I encourage you to do the exercise with another person. If you are really struggling in your life, I would strongly recommend doing this exercise with a counselor.
It is helpful to do this with another person because identifying your core values is only half of the usefulness that this exercise holds. The rest comes from the process of deciding your core values.
Doing the exercise with another person allows you to share about what you are experiencing as you go through the steps. For example, you can learn something about yourself based on a strong negative reaction you have to a value card. You can learn something about yourself when you realize that a value you thought SHOULD be more important, doesn't make your top 10 list. Experiences like this can be useful as they may illuminate actual dynamics in your life that contribute to the "stuckness" you are feeling.
The idea is simple; if you are living according to your core values and your lifestyle gives you regular opportunity to do so, you will be substantially happier than if these values were blocked or if you are
living at odds with them.
Of course, it's possible that you already have a general sense of what your values are, but one purpose of this exercise is to identify which values stand out. As you do the exercise, you may notice that there are many values that you resonate with, but the point is to figure out what means the most to you.
There are a lot of ways to use the value card deck. The process described below is largely taken from instructions created by John Veeken and Marie McNamara, but I have expanded on these in ways that I have found useful with my clients.
1) You need a deck of value cards. You can find an abundance of these online.
I prefer the deck created by the Urban Indian Health Institute of Seattle. Their deck should be one of the first results you get if you type in “value card exercise” into Google.
2) Find a large surface to do the work. A dining room table is ideal.
3) Sort through the deck and begin placing the value cards in 3 categories: Most important to me, important to me and not important to me.
(Note: if you are really struggling to decide which category to place a value in, it may help to create a “neutral” stack).
4) As I mentioned above, pay attention to what your experiencing as you go through the deck.
Which cards do you react strongly too? Which are the easiest to place in a category? Which are the toughest? Do any of them make you feel angry, happy, sad, scared?
5) Once you have placed all the cards in a category, reflect on the experience and the choices you have made. Are there any cards and/or placements that are bugging you? Take note of these.
If you really are feeling stuck, you can place the cards in question in the “most important to me” stack and proceed to the next step.
6) Take the cards you placed in the “most important to me” section and pick your top 10 out of these cards. This step is about reducing the stack to 10, not ranking them 1-10. Pay attention to your experience. Were there any cards that were difficult to “give up?”
7) Next, pick your top 5 (again, in no particular order). As the stack gets smaller it can get harder to make selections. One strategy to help with this is to think about which values are similar. Is there a card that can, in essence, represent both values (i.e. solitude can represent independence or love can represent connection).
Note: It is okay to select a value even if you feel you aren't good at practicing it. It can be useful to identify values that you are “striving” towards.
8) Next, pick your top 3. These are your “core values.” These are the things that are the most meaningful above all other things. These values are a big part of who you are and how you understand yourself and the world.
9) Next, select your top value. Which one of these core values stands out above the rest?
Remember, if this process is challenging, that is a good thing. The good news is that you don't actually have to let go of any value. This process is about finding the best of the best.
10) Reflect on your experience. How are you feeling? What was that process like for you? Are you surprised by the results?
11) Take a look at your top 3 values, these are the most important things to you. These values need to be cherished, nurtured and protected. When you think about your life now, to what degree is
your characterized by these values. On a scale from 1-10, pick a number that best represents how much your life is defined by each value. Based on these numbers, are you discovering that
there is a gap between what is most important to you and your everyday life?
Fee free to do this step for your top 5 values. It can also be useful to do this step for your “not important” stack. Is everyday life heavily defined by things that are not important to you?
12) Now it's time to put some of this information into action. Think of ways in which you can increase the presence of these values in your life. For example, if connection is one of your
core values but, currently, you feel that your feeling of connectedness is a 3 out of 10, how could you make efforts to feel more connected this week? It is not necessary to identify life-
altering actions. Small efforts or intentions that can be put in to practice this week are ideal.
13) Take a photo of your core value cards with your phone so you always have them with you as a reminder and for inspiration.
Note: During this exercise you may have experienced some strong emotions or found that your currently lifestyle is at odds with your value system. This could be do to your occupation, habits or a
relationship. There may be no easy or obvious solution to your predicament. If this is the case, I would recommend finding a counselor to help you work through your situation.
"Everyone is going through something that we can't see."
In an article from earlier this year, Kevin Love, a power forward for the Cleveland Cavaliers (and Portland-area native), opened up about his mental health issues. He talked about his experience in therapy and the reasons why he avoided it for so long.
"I wanted to share that story because of how eye-opening it was to talk about it. In the short time I’ve been meeting with the therapist, I’ve seen the power of saying things out loud in a setting like that."
You can read the article by clicking here.
Kevin Love was motivated to open up by another NBA player, DeMar DeRozan, who went public with his own struggles with depression. Like Kevin Love, his disclosure helped fans feel safe to open up about their own experience and was met with a flood of support.
Click here to read about DeMar DeRozan's story.
For every person who shares their struggle, there are 1 or 2 who don't. For many of them, holding onto their secret is lonely and overwhelming. By being open, people can shed some of their burden and invite others to do so as well. One way to do this is to join a support group.
For online support:
Mental Health America
For support groups that meet in your area:
PDX Support Groups
One of the easiest ways to get into counseling is to utilize your employer’s EAP (Employee Assistance Program). These provide many benefits including free therapy sessions. Ask your HR department if your company participates in this program.
Another helpful way to connect with a counselor is by going to www.psychologytoday.com. On this website, you will be able to search for local counselors by location, specialty, cost, insurance etc. You will also be able to see a photo and read an introduction written by the counselor themselves.
For more information about overcoming the stigma of therapy. Try these articles:
Stigma and Help Seeking
The Stigma of Psychotherapy
The Stigma Therapy
Stigma as a Barrier to Mental Health care
Crazy. Shame. Weakness.
These continue to be messages that prevail about therapy and those who participate in it. They are powerful, so much so, that, studies suggest that a third or more of the people who could benefit from therapy, do not seek it out. (Rector, 2014)
The stigma continues even as those who take the leap and seek counseling are usually surprised by how ordinary, comfortable and yet profoundly helpful it can be.
Instead of trying to outline all that has been written on this topic, I thought I'd just share a few thoughts about how I look at therapy and how I think it works. I hope that it helps challenge any preconceived notions you may have about therapy that are keeping you from taking the next step.
Of course, the usefulness of therapy is influenced by the training and temperament of each counselor, but I've always appreciated the additional value that therapy can provide just in the nature of the therapeutic setting:
Why Therapy Works
1. It is a space that is just for you to focus on you.
This can be especially useful for “caregivers” or “people-pleasers” who are often neglected by themselves or others, or are disconnected from their own wants and needs.
2. A relationship where you don't have to worry about filtering what you say or what the repercussions of sharing may be.
Friends and family can be great supports and can be helpful to talk to but, depending on what you are struggling with, having them be your main support can put strain on the relationship or lead them to “caught in the middle” between you and another mutual relationship. With your counselor, it’s safe to be open and unfiltered.
3. An active and experienced listener who's only agenda is to understand and direct treatment based on your goals.
Even if your friends or family members are comfortable supporting you, and the content of your struggles do not strain relationships, their own biases and “blind spots” can keep them from maintaining objectivity. A good counselor is not only skilled and experienced but also has done their own therapy. This helps them assist and support you without their own “stuff” getting in the way.
4. An opportunity to sort through your thoughts and feelings aloud, instead of in your head.
As you may know, it’s easy to get into an unproductive headspace. Your attempts to think about your problems can end up being extended periods of worrying that usual increase anxiety, frustration and hopelessness. If you’ve been trying to try to handle things on your own, it could be due to the fear you have about reaching out. Do yourself a favor, ask for help . Two heads are better than one.
Next week: How to get started
Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you'll ever regret.
- Laurence J. Peter
“If things don't change, I think we are going to have to go to counseling.”
I'm 17 years old. My mom is expressing her distress about the state of things in our newly blended family. Her statement, not meant to be a threat, functioned as one. Therapy was punishment, participating in it meant failure. The fact that we never ended up going, suggested that this threat had served its purpose. We fell in line. Our aversion to the idea of therapy outweighed the discomfort that was contributing to our dysfunction.
This is my oldest memory about counseling. Considering I've chosen a career in the profession, it's obvious that my understanding of therapy has changed. At the same time, this memory is grounding for me and helps me connect with those who hesitate, avoid or are ambivalent about therapy.
If you are reading this, I assume you are pondering whether therapy might be able to help you and you may be struggling with the same sort of concerns I did. Whatever your hesitation is, I can assure you that you are not alone. People find all sorts of reasons to avoid or put off reaching out for help. The question becomes, what if therapy is exactly what you need right now?
Here are some questions that I hope will help you get some clarity on whether you are ready to take the next step. I suggest you take time to thoroughly consider these questions. It may help to write down your answers:
Next, take time throughout this week to think about your answers. If you are still unsure, come back next week where I will dispel the myths of therapy and show how simple and effective it can be.
4 Reasons Why Therapy Works.
Once in a yoga class I was introduced to a breathing technique I want to share. It is called the 4-7-8 or "Relaxing Breathe" exercise. Thousands of years of tradition as well as recent scientific study has confirmed that this breathing technique, and ones like it, help you successfully achieve a calm state. As with most things, it is more effective with practice. By engaging in this practice you are training your nervous system to more easily achieve and maintain a relaxed state.
Although you can do the exercise in any position, sit with your back straight while learning the exercise. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward.
Dr. Weil says:
This exercise is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. Unlike tranquilizing drugs, which are often effective when you first take them but then lose their power over time, this exercise is subtle when you first try it but gains in power with repetition and practice. Do it at least twice a day. You cannot do it too frequently. Do not do more than four breaths at one time for the first month of practice. Later, if you wish, you can extend it to eight breaths. If you feel a little lightheaded when you first breathe this way, do not be concerned; it will pass. Once you develop this technique by practicing it every day, it will be a very useful tool that you will always have with you. Use it whenever anything upsetting happens - before you react. Use it whenever you are aware of internal tension. Use it to help you fall asleep. This exercise cannot be recommended too highly. Everyone can benefit from it.
For more information and additional breathing techniques visit www.drweil.com
For those of you with anxiety, you probably know what a barrier it can be to feeling good. You may have begun to realize how important it is to have some tricks for managing it when it is especially intense. Below is a list of everyday items you can use to cope with anxiety and regain a sense of tranquility.
1. A Heavy Blanket
Research has shown a heavy or weighted blanket can help with symptoms like insomnia and anxiety by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps de-stress your body.
2. A Bath with Epsom Salts
A soothing hot bath raises your body heat which helps regulate mood and anxiety. Sprinkling in some Epsom salts adds magnesium-sulfate which has been shown to calm anxiety and lower blood pressure. You can also try adding lavender or vanilla essential oils.
3. Your Phone
You can use progressive relaxation to relieve an anxiety attack. There are a number of apps you can download to your phone that feature guided progressive relaxation and other guided meditation. In progressive relaxation, you focus on slowly tensing and then relaxing each muscle group. This can help you focus on the difference between muscle tension and relaxation. You can become more aware of physical sensations. Try the free Pacifica- Stress and Anxiety app.
4. Pencil and Paper
For many people, simply writing a list is a great way to handle stress. Organizing your thoughts or to-dos on paper can provide you with a feeling of organization that brings you back to feeling calm. Another strategy is to write a list of what you’re grateful for to help focus your thoughts on what’s positive in your life. It is impossible to overstate the potential value of cultivating a sense of gratitude in your life. Among other things, by focusing on the positive things in your life, you are better able to maintain perspective on the things in life that cause you anxiety.
5. Chewing Gum
For a super easy and quick stress reliever, try chewing a stick of gum. One study showed that people who chewed gum had a greater sense of well-being and lower stress. Additional research demonstrated that flavored gum can provide further stress-relieving benefits. Researchers have a variety of theories as to why this is, but, since it is something most of us tend to have on hand anyway, there is no harm giving it a try!
Another great read: 7 Benefits of Gratitude
Before I became a counselor, I don't know how I would have defined “self-care” or if I would have even been able to. It didn't take long after starting my first job in the field to quickly be made aware of how important self-care would be to my effectiveness, sustainability and satisfaction in this profession. If I wouldn't have been forced to grow in this area, I probably would have continued to treat my body as a possession that I could use to serve my needs as opposed to a precious gift that could be taken away at any time.
We go through our daily lives multitasking and using our bodies to do so many things without thinking about them, if your body required you to stop and think about everything you did, you would be bogged down and overwhelmed. We owe it to our bodies that give us the ability to operate so effortlessly – to check in and care for them.
It is easy to take our bodies for granted if we have never had an experience that teaches us not to. If we don’t take the time to check in, we run the risk of running ourselves into the ground. Of course there is no way to prevent discomfort but, the more you can be in tune with your body, the more you can create a sense of peace and contentment residing in your own skin.
My yoga teacher often refers to one's body as a “life partner” and encourages her students to lend their attention and compassion to their physical self as they would a significant other. I've always felt this was a helpful way to think about how we relate to our body and to assess how we are doing in regards to being a good “partner.”
As we enter the new year, I invite you to take the time to reconnect with your body, your old friend who's always been there for you.
Things you might say to your life partner: